In battle for Putin’s affections, cupid favors Xi over Trump

BEIJING (AP) — In the race to woo Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping is beating Donald Trump.

Trump’s quest to kindle a bromance with the Russian president has made some Americans squirm. His gushy performance in Helsinki, expressing confidence in Putin instead of U.S. intelligence agencies, ignited outrage across the political spectrum back home.

Should Beijing worry that Trump could succeed in pulling Putin away from China?

Probably not, political analysts say.

Trump’s charm offensive might cause Beijing a twinge of unease, given its tumultuous history with Moscow. But in this love triangle, Putin and Xi are linked by strategic necessity, plus genuine personal affection.

“Trump has made clear that he is a big fan of Putin,” said Li Xin, director of the Russia center at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Studies.

“But everyone knows that Trump frequently changes his mind,” said Li. “His attempts to be friendly cannot compete with the history and the intimacy of Xi and Putin’s relationship.”

Moscow and Beijing are linked by practical and political needs.

China wants Russian oil and gas to power the world’s second-largest economy. Moscow needs Chinese trade and investment more than ever following its estrangement from the West over its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

They share a loathing of Islamic radicalism in Central Asia and resent U.S. global dominance.

“Both leaders seek to curtail American influence, weaken U.S. alliances and modify the international system so it is more favorable to them,” Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said in an email.

Trump raves about Putin’s political skills, but the Chinese and Russian leaders have long enthused publicly about their unique rapport.

Ahead of a visit to Beijing in June, Putin reminisced about celebrating his birthday with Xi over vodka and sausages five years ago.

“I’ve never established such relations or made such arrangements with any foreign colleague, but I did it with President Xi,” Putin told Chinese state TV.

Xi presented Putin with China’s first “friendship medal” — an ornate gold necklace — and called him “my best, most intimate friend.”